I had high hopes for our nation when Obama won the Presidential election on a platform of change and progress, but they're fading fast.
One area in major need of change is our health care system. We spend far more money than any other country on health care - more than $2.2 trillion annually - yet costs continue to rise alarmingly, threatening to consume our economy. And yet, the quality of our health care is worse than in countries that spend far less. Everyone recognizes that the current system based on private insurers is broken and needs to be fixed - but there the agreement ends.
NBC reported recently that support for the health care bill that Congress has been working on for months is rapidly declining; just 32 percent say it's a good idea. And for good reason: what's left of the 2,074 page bill is not worth fighting for. The bill has been gutted of any meaningful reforms, and the public option has been eliminated. What's left is a bill which will mandate Americans insure themselves with the same companies whose policies caused the health care problem in the first place.
During the electoral debates over a year ago, all three top Democratic candidates - Clinton, Edwards and Obama - recognized that health care was in dire need of an overhaul, and all three proposed plans that called for something akin to the public option. At the time, polls showed that more than three-quarters of Americans support such a public option, as did the majority of doctors and small-business owners.
However, the public option has drawn intense opposition from most Republicans and some moderate Democrats who fear a government takeover of health care. But such fears are unfounded. A public option is not socialism. And it doesn't equal rationed care, long waiting lines, or limited choice.
A public option is simply a government-run health insurance plan that is an alternative, competing with private insurance - just as public colleges compete with private schools. It would mean that, in addition to the private plans in existence now, Americans could choose a public plan if they wish. If the public option doesn't provide the services you want or costs more than a private plan, you choose the private plan.
A public option would reduce health care costs by increasing competition with private insurers. It would also ensure consumer choice. It needs to be large and powerful enough to have authority to negotiate prices and bargaining leverage. According to Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV): "Without the steady, positive influence of a public plan option in the marketplace, we will never truly solve the health care crisis in this country. Private health insurance has a long history of cutting people off or charging too much for too little."
But private insurance companies have spent about $5 million each week leading the fight against the public option, attempting to confuse and scare people to stay with our current flawed system. Afraid they would lose customers to a public program, they have nurtured people's fears that employers would embrace a public option and that the quality of the insurance they receive would decrease. Yet under the current system, many employers are finding that they can no longer afford insurance for their employees. Health insurance premiums are rising five times faster than wages, and have almost doubled since 2000.
The bill requires Americans to buy insurance, but does not include a public option. Universal medical insurance is not universal access to affordable, necessary health care. Once again the wealthiest are growing richer on the backs of working people. Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown, has called H-R 35-90 a "perversion of health care reform."
According to Dr. Howard Dean, a medical doctor, former governor of Vermont and former Democratic National Committee chairman, the bill currently in the Senate is simply a bailout for the insurance industry. He's right - the bill simply expands private insurers' monopoly over health care. "Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these," said Dean.
So tell your senators to vote no. We must make health care accessible and affordable for all Americans, but this bill does not accomplish this. Passing a hollow, toothless bill only for the sake of a signing ceremony is not an option.